William M. Briggs

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The Hobbit Reviewed—Guest Post by John Henry Briggs

The Hobbit

The Hobbit was quite good, but disappointing.

One of the biggest flaws in Lord of the Rings was the endless video game-like orc slaughter that was gratuitous at best and silly at worst (e.g. Legolas skating down stairs of Helms Deep on a shield shooting orcs). The Hobbit continues with that tradition, where goblins seem to be capable of nothing more than to get their heads chopped off. Any tension they might have existed when our heroes are surrounded by goblins is preemptively dissipated.

The much-touted high frame rate makes it feel hyper-realistic, but that only serves to drag the modern CG back 15 years. The higher the filming quality, the harder it is the trick the brain with the CG.

The movie suffered the same fate as the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, another beloved sci-fi/fantasy novel adapted for the screen starring Martin Freeman. The fate being, where the movie followed the book, it was a good enough, and where it didn’t, it kinda fell short.

As a pretty devout fan of Tolkien, a lot of little things made the movie worse, errors that someone who doesn’t own a replica One Ring wouldn’t notice. For example, the composer, Howard Shore used the leitmotif of the Witch-King in LotR for the Goblin King, Azog (whose role was extended for the movie) which felt like a lazy attempt to connect the two series thematically. Almost the whole soundtrack is borrowed wholesale from Lord of the Rings.

The reason why the movie didn’t work is that Peter Jackson apparently felt he was not done telling the story of Lord of the Rings and decided that The Hobbit was a good way to deliver it. We see the dark lord Sauron gathering his strength and the White Council deliberating their plan of action, which is unneeded in an action/adventure type movie; an allusion here and there is all that was needed. But the type of obsession that caused Peter Jackson to have all the props created just for the movies (chainmail and all) is what caused these other unneeded details.

It looked and felt a lot like Lord of the Rings, with the sweeping shots of mountains and forests. and as I mentioned the soundtrack doesn’t help to differentiate the two series. I went in hoping for a more magical feel, for a lack of a better word. The world of The Hobbit, though of course the same, felt more innocent and less dismal than Lord of the Rings, and that difference is not captured here. The Hobbit has a dragon and a battle of five armies. The Lord of the Rings has the Elves leaving middle earth, the Shire being destroyed (not in the movies, though) and the One Ring has scarred both Frodo and Bilbo.

I’ve been focusing on all the negatives because of the disappointment, but there is a good movie here. All the actors did a good job, and Martin Freeman is great as always. I wish they spent more time focusing on the dwarves; only half of them are familiar, the rest seem unimportant. The 3D was quite excellent, even though I really dislike the fad. And at the end of the movie, it somehow didn’t feel like 2 hours and 40 minutes had passed. I wanted it to keep going despite all my complaints. Though Radagast riding a sled driven by a bunch of rather large rabbits was absurd to say the least.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be fan edits sold at conventions with all the extra stuff cut out, and I will buy one.

John Henry Briggs is the number-two son of Yours Truly.

6 Comments

  1. Thanks for the info.

    I am a big fan of the books and thought that Jackson et. al. did an excelent adaptation for the movies. My big quibble with the LotR movies was to move the encounter with Shelob from the end fo “The Two Towers” to the begining of the “Return of the King.”

    However, when I heard about some of the decisions that were made for the Hobbit, I thought that all of them were wrong…
    There is no reason for the Hobbit to be a trillogy — really no reason to go beyond 2 1/2 hours. It is a smaller story than any of the Lord of the Rings stories. They should stay away from the back stories from the Silmarillion.

    I have heard the same feedback that the higher resloution filming makes everything look fake.

  2. Dr K.A. Rodgers

    19 December 2012 at 7:12 pm

    I have long apprecaited Tolkein. I have no need for others’ interpretations of that author’s concepts. This includes illustrations in books other than Tolkein’s originals. I had no wish to view Jackson’s contortions of LoTR which I uderstand, via junior relatives, excises the critical turning point in the book’s plot. [I suspect Jackson failed to understand it.] I intend to absent myself from Jackson’s Hobbit. The thought of it as a trilogy leaves me utterly cold.

  3. Dr K,
    “excises the critical turning point in the book’s plot. [I suspect Jackson failed to understand it”

    I’ve always felt that there were quite a number of such turning points. Which one particularly are you thinking of?

  4. I disagree with much.
    I belong also to long time Tolkienphiles and have read everything that has been published when Tolkien was still living.
    Useless to add that back then nobody but few select knew who Tolkien was.

    The one point I agree with is that P.Jackson’s series creates a slightly different atmosphere (more so for the Hobbit than for LotR) from the one in the books.

    The reason for that is obvious and natural.
    When Tolkien wrote The Hobbit (based on stories he told his children) he didn’t even know that he would write LotR one day.
    This gave it a standalone simple story for children character.
    But P.Jackson who read Tolkien and knows his work well, knew better.
    The Hobbit happens only a few years before LotR!
    From that follows that the Hobbit’s story must necessarily be embedded in a much larger and complex world that LotR has revealed.
    This obvious observation transforms (or better embeds) the original simple story for children in something like a LotR prequel and the movie can’t have the same feel like the standalone Hobbit true to the book would have. That’s why it also needs a time roughly equivalent to the one of LotR, e.g 2 or 3 movies.
    The one thing that one could say is that P.Jackson is not Tolkien and transforming The Hobbit in a LotR prequel is a kind of hubris. Well I do not think so because he clearly captured the epic and emotional depth of the Tolkien’s work and I do think that if Tolkien had written The Hobbit after LotR, he would have written something that would look much like P.Jackson vision.
    This is by the way the same approach that P.Jackson had chosen for LotR itself. All Tolkienphiles have noticed that P.Jackson left out 2 rather prominent events of the books – Tom Bombadil and Sarouman in the Shire. This also for a reason. These 2 events are precisely those who feel like rather inconsistent “intruders” in the LotR universe. People have been arguing for decades who Bombadil is and what his appearance in LotR could possibly mean. Well nobody knows and Tolkien himself has never told even though he agreed that it stayed an unexplained (unnecessary?) part of the story. So P.Jackson just removed those unfitting events without betraying the LotR spirit and staying otherwise extremely near to the letter.
    A second point where I agree are the Dwarfs. The Dwarfs and their culture are a major part of Tolkien’s creation. On top I have always preferred the Dwarfs to the Hobbits because they think and behave more realistically. So I would have liked to see more of them too.
    Besides this very minor point, I enjoyed The Hobbit immensely – when the Dwarves begin to sing “Far over Misty Mountains cold …” a true moment of magic passes. Thorin Oakenshield and the actors are good, the story is compelling and technically remarkably realized. I particularly appreciated the “LotR prequel” philosophy because everybody who likes Tolkien has always asked himself one day or other what was actually going on in the Middle Earth when Bilbo left for his journey. I look forward for N° 2 and can’t recommend The Hobbit enough for every Tolkienphile who allows a movie director some freedom in choosing the distance between the word and the picture.
    Of course during this rewriting work the director has to have a good knowledge and understanding of the written work so that this distance is minimal for fundamental defining features and may be greater for ancillary elements.

  5. At the end of the day Tolkien’s work will share the same fate as the Arthurian legends. Endlessly reinterpreted, sometimes returning to the source materials, at other times departing significantly in parts from them.

  6. The books were great, the movie (LotR) not so much. Besides the obvious flaws mentioned above, the worst part was the casting of Charles Manson as Aragorn.

    My impression from the book was that Aragorn was a tall and blondish fellow with kingly demeanor, not a short swarthy mumbling psychopath. I kept expecting, throughout LotR, to see the tattooed cross on Manson’s forehead, but they airbrushed it out mostly.

    Also, the shrinking of normal people into hobbits was strained. Sometimes Merry and Pippen were full-sized, as big as gay Gandalf, but other times they barely came up to his waist.

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